Where: Garden State Hotel, 101 Flinders Lane Melbourne
What: A pub perfect for large, intolerance-addled groups
Who: Premature Nana, Manuel Swift and Summer’s Greatest Proponent
Bloat score: 0 – Living the dream
I’m not averse to lunch being my first meal of the day, especially on a Saturday, which is how I found myself at Garden State Hotel ordering a steak at the early hour of 11.45 in the morning.
Garden State Hotel is a bar cum restaurant with an expansive courtyard out the back, perfect for sunny wintery days such as the one we had when we visited, or even better on a summery day if UV rays and sweaty armpit patches are your thing. As it was, Garden State Hotel was relatively empty at the early hour that we visited, and we were told the kitchen would only start taking orders at midday.
No matter – Premature Nana had just proposed to her boyfriend the night before in a spectacularly public spectacle, so a bottle of sparkling was purchased to commemorate the occasion. From the way he reacted, you’d think the bartender had never heard of people drinking before midday – he was highly reluctant to serve a group of four girls alcohol in the last few minutes of what would be classified as the morning.
With a capacity of 840 people, Garden State Hotel has several areas where you have access to different menus according to where you’re seated. The ‘Garden Grill’ features fancy share plates with the likes of duck parfait on toasted brioche and coal-grilled broadbill; the basement ‘Rose Garden’ has an extensive cocktail and late night snack menu that contains the likes of a wagyu hot dog and pot noodles; and the ‘Balcony Dining Room’ is open for private functions.
We chose a booth out in the verdant courtyard, which let us choose from the separate ‘Kiosk’ menu that had a selection of toasties and snacks, as well as the ‘Public Bar’ menu that had a mixture of snacks, counter meals and pub classics.
The waitstaff at Garden State Hotel were accommodating when faced with dietary requirements, and I was told that I could order either the market fish with kipfler potatoes and a caper and peppercorn dressing or the Cape Grim flank with fries and a café de Paris sauce. I went for the latter, but more because I wanted the fries than an injection of iron.
I like to play this game with myself where I choose something I would have ordered had I not been blighted with this sad curse – on this occasion, it would have been the pork and beef bolognese toastie, because everything tastes good in a toastie. There were also numerous things that I would have ordered on the snack menu – from the smoked pork croquettes with pepper mayo to the mini roast beef, chip and gravy roll.
For a kitchen that only started operating at midday, our meals arrived suspiciously quickly. After apologising to my Hindu gods for my sacrilegious lunch choice, I tucked in. My steak was more akin to a minute steak, which I appreciated, and the butter-based, slightly salty café de Paris sauce was a treat with both my steak and thick cut chips. Meanwhile, the tartness of the accompanying pickled radish green salad cut through the richness of the brown butter sauce. I realised in hindsight that the waitstaff hadn’t asked me how I’d like the steak to be cooked, but it seemed to be medium-rare, which is exactly how I like my biannual steak.
Premature Nana – whose idea of a perfect day involves knitting, playing with her cats and reading in bed – went for the braised lamb shank on spring onion polenta. It looked like a thing of beauty when it came out – A+ for presentation. While the polenta was creamy and flavoursome, however, Premature Nana remarked that the lamb shank tasted like something that had just come out of a microwave – it wasn’t evenly hot, nor was it falling off the bone.
When I first started working at a publishing house in 2014 – which is where I incidentally met these girls – there was talk of a person called ‘Manuel’, whom I equated to a hot Spanish man in my mind. Little did I know it was a girl of Portuguese heritage who hailed from Sandy Point with a curious likeness for her idol Taylor Swift, so better basically.
Manuel Swift ordered the roasted green chilli and brassicas pasta, which was runner-up in ‘list of things I would have ordered had I not been blighted with this sad curse’. After enlisting our old friend Google, we found out brassicas is a fancy word for ‘cabbage family’, which includes cauliflower, broccoli and brussel sprouts. Manuel Swift’s pasta was blanketed with crispy kale – which we all agreed is the best (only) way to eat kale – while the individual strands of pasta were coated in a pinenut pesto without the typical notes of basil and just a hint of chilli. She enjoyed it.
Summer’s Greatest Proponent, who wraps herself in scarves and wears nothing but black jeans no matter how warm it is, ordered the crispy kale, avocado and green bean salad because she was told it’d be sufficient as a meal. It wasn’t, though it was very tasty.
Too embarrassed to order the emmental, smoked mozzarella and pickle toastie that she originally wanted with her salad, I was dispatched to the kiosk to ostensibly order it for myself.
Summer’s Greatest Proponent was in seventh heaven once her toastie arrived (pictured below is just half of it) – there was sufficient ooze factor and a zesty pickle is always a good counterpart to copious amounts of cheese. I stared balefully at the toastie and wondered what it must be like feeling perfectly fine after every meal.
Garden State Hotel gets rowdy at night (not that I’ve visited to prove this assumption true), but I’ve decided I like it best on a sunny afternoon. It’s ideal for large groups and a reasonably priced quick meal, with a side of judgement should you want a bottle of sparkling before midday.
Garden State Hotel is open every day from 11am until late.